Put Your Phone Down - Insights from A Professional Meeting Attendee


Once upon a time... I used to create things. It was a glorious time. 

  • Branding . . .  check
  • Logos . . . check
  • Websites . . . check
  • Collateral . . . check
  • Campaigns . . . check

Building things has always been my favorite part of marketing. Specifically, building things that allow businesses to reach their goals. It truly is an amazing feeling to start with a goal, move through abstract ideas, develop something tangible, and see positive results. 

Now, I am a professional meeting attendee. While I am still able to create, more and more of my schedule is spent in meetings with clients, on non-profit boards, speaking with up-and-coming marketers, and more. It's not necessarily bad because meetings are part of the sacrifice to grow a business. 

While I am in meetings I have noticed something that stands out as a trait of effective communicators and it has everything to do with their phone. Let's pause for a moment.

In my previous professional life, I desired to be an anthropology professor and worked my way to a college instructor where I taught courses in Cultural Anthropology. One of the key "tools" of an anthropologist is called "participant-observation." That is where the anthropologist immerses themselves in a culture or specific practice while observing the "natives."

With that said, I still see myself as an anthropologist and when I am in a meeting a voice-over comes into my head. 

The natives are practicing their rituals of greetings. Look at the male shaking hands with the other male who he believes to be his superior, sometimes referred to as the Alpha . . . fascinating. Oh, the women Alpha has arrived, notice how she is immediately greeted with respect. 

I then shake off the voice-over and try to remember I need to be a professional and participate in the meeting. As much as I am present, my anthropologist mindset is still there and has observed a trend with phones. 

Great Leaders Put Phones Away

Recently, I was in a meeting. It was one of those times when I just sat and listened to others as the entire room was full of professionals light-years ahead of me. I am not sure why I was even invited, yet it was a master course in strategy and dialogue. 

As I was writing notes, I observed the behaviors of those in the room and noticed an absence.

Cell phones. 

Sitting at the table was a very successful CEO, PhDs, leaders in banking, venture capitalists, and other accomplished individuals. They all had their cell phones put away and were focused on the meeting. 

It was refreshing. 

Then I started to think of all the meetings I attend and realized the ones where I am the most frustrated are the ones where the leader is glued to their phone. They called the meeting, yet they can't give attention. Then I thought about the most impressive meeting I ever attended.

It was with President Renu Khator from the University of Houston who has won a ridiculous amount of awards. I was invited to be one of many students for a Town Hall meeting. President Khator is one of the busiest leaders in Houston and I distinctly remember her turning off her phone as the meeting began and putting it away. 

I was in awe. This person raises tens of millions of dollars on a daily basis and here she was speaking with students with her phone turned off and giving full attention to those who were speaking. I left that meeting with a goal to do the same. 

Working With Clients 

So how does the above relate to marketing? I mean, this is a blog on a marketing firm's website. 

To be redundant, I participate in a lot of meetings. Most of these meetings are with clients as we go over goals, campaigns, designs, and more. The issue becomes when clients are stuck to their phone and don't provide feedback. In every proposal Elisha Consulting writes, we specifically say work will be done "collaboratively."

We never want to present something that was solely based on the ideas from Elisha Consulting as marketing is fluid and needs to represent the company doing the actual promotion. If we just gave designs and managed campaigns without collaboration, we would be doing a disservice to our amazing clients. 

Collaboration is essential and only occurs when both parties feel respected. One of the simplest ways to show respect is to provide undivided attention which means putting the phone away. 

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Matt Avery
Founder & Chief Strategist at Elisha Consulting